By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Jarrin Bott’s lips move as he silently whispers “eeny, meeny, miney, moe” and skips his finger over four different books.

He picks up the one his finger lands on and carefully writes his name inside the front cover, then heads to the library couch to start reading.

Twice a year, students across Baker County are treated to a book giveaway by REAL — Read Everyday And Learn, a program of the Baker County Community Literacy Coalition.

Brooklyn Primary’s turn came Wednesday and Thursday, when co-coordinators Jim Tomlinson and RaeAnn Butler set up in the library to greet the 22 classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 — about 485 children.

As each group took a seat, Tomlinson and Butler scattered a variety of age-appropriate books across the table, both fiction and nonfiction.

After making their choice, the students penciled their names inside and received a REAL bookmark, then found a spot to read their new book.

Tomlinson said the program’s budget is funded two-thirds by grants and one-third by donations from local individuals, businesses and service clubs.

“The PTOs are on board now, and the service clubs,” he said.

REAL was founded in 2010 as the local alternative to SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) program. SMART paired volunteer readers with about 100 students each year. Those students also received free books.

REAL also recruits volunteers to read in the schools, but by giving a book to every child in seven schools twice a year, the program reaches many more children.

“We have at least a thousand kids impacted,” Tomlinson said.

And that’s just in schools — add in books provided to social service programs such as Building Healthy Families, Babies First and WIC, and that number jumps to about 1,500.

The program serves kids from preschool to Grade 6 in a total of 19 partners, including schools and social service and health agencies.

“Our focus is really early reading,” Tomlinson said.

Also, about 40 adults read with more than 100 children each week to help them improve their reading skills. And last summer, volunteers read with children during the school district’s six-w eek Summer Academy.

Tomlinson said REAL will give away up to 3,000 books this year, most of which are purchased through Betty’s Books in Baker City.

Support

The program can always use more volunteer readers willing to read with kids for 30 to 60 minutes once each week.

Also, tax-deductible donations can be made to the Literacy Program in care of the Baker County Public Library, 2400 Resort St., Baker City, OR 97814.

Tomlinson now has office space in the HATCH lab located on Main Street, where he can organize all the books destined for eager little hands.

“I can grab them by grade because they’re all sorted — it’s really nice,” he said.

Since he is only at that office part-time, anyone interested in learning more about REAL or volunteering can email him at jst03171@yahoo.com .

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